How the Oscars completely botched the ending

A woman speaks into a microphone while two women stand behind her.
Chloe Zhao accepts the best picture award for “Nomadland.”
(A.M.P.A.S.© 2021)

Move over, “Moonlight” and “La La Land.” The Oscars have a new standard for a bungled ending.

In the run-up to this year’s Oscars, producers Steven Soderbergh, Stacey Sher and Jesse Collins had promised to shake up the traditional Oscars format. But one of their most surprising innovations, alas, proved one of the most ill-conceived, with the show concluding not with the emotional moment they surely banked on but rather an anticlimactic fizzle.

In a startling break from Oscar tradition, the best picture award was shifted back from its venerable spot at the show’s finale to third from last, with the show ending instead on the final two lead acting categories. In making the move, the producers appear to have calculated that holding back a dash of star power until the end might help keep viewers more engaged in a year in which few moviegoers saw the Oscar-nominated films, including best picture winner “Nomadland,” whose victory was considered an all but foregone conclusion.


With Chadwick Boseman widely favored to win a posthumous lead actor prize for “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” the show’s creative team were likely hoping for a big emotional finish to the show, with an outpouring of love for the late “Black Panther” star. Boseman’s widow, Taylor Simone Ledward, has given a series of moving acceptance speeches for the late actor at multiple virtual awards ceremonies this year including the Golden Globes, SAG Awards and NAACP Image Awards.

Instead, Anthony Hopkins was named the winner for his turn in “The Father.” And, to make matters worse, he was not present. Of late, Hopkins has been posting pictures from Wales on his Instagram account, the latest coming early Sunday from his father’s grave, where he read from Dylan Thomas’ “Do not go gentle into that good night.” And a representative for Hopkins confirmed to The Times that he did not wish to travel to the U.K. location dedicated for acceptance speeches due to COVID-19 concerns.

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Without so much as a final acceptance speech, the show simply limped to an abrupt end. Presenter Joaquin Phoenix, who won the actor honor last year, awkwardly read from a teleprompter, shuffled off the stage and the producers cut to music director Questlove, who informed the somewhat confused, subdued audience in the theater — and those still watching at home — that the show was over.

Backstage, the “Nomadland” crew was asked about how they felt about the best picture category coming earlier. “It surely was a surprise,” said one of the film’s producers, Dan Janvey. “I think a lot of us grew up watching the Oscars and I’ve gotten used to it being last.”

That said, while social media lighted up with criticisms of the show’s conclusion, Janvey took the category shuffle in stride. “It was incredibly fun that they shook it up,” he continued. “I thought the producers did a great job of making it possible for us to do this in person. As producers, it’s hard to imagine what went into the making of the show.”

One thing that those producers had repeatedly said in the run-up to the show was that they wanted the ceremony to feel like a film. To this end, it would seem they tried to script it along the lines of, say, “Out of Sight,” one of Soderbergh’s more emotionally satisfying movies, one that stuck its landing. Instead it felt more like his latest, the awkward, botched comedy “Let Them All Talk.” People were talking, all right. But what they were saying wasn’t particularly kind.


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Speaking to The Times this month, Soderbergh acknowledged that, when you produce a show as closely scrutinized as the Oscars, you need to be prepared to take some lumps.

“My attitude coming in was, you have to surrender to the fact you’re just going to be a human piñata,” Soderbergh said. “And if you do surrender to that, you’re kind of free to do what you want. We don’t read the comments section, because that way lies madness.”

Times staff writer Yvonne Villarreal contributed to this report.